There is a serious mental health crisis spanning universities across the United States—and it’s not difficult to see why. College students are still re-adjusting to campus in this new post-COVID climate while balancing part-time jobs with hectic class schedules, managing all the stress of projects or exams, and having time for a social life.
That’s no small feat, and many students are cracking under pressure. A recent Fortune poll reveals that 60 percent of U.S. college students have a clinical diagnosis of anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition.
However, despite the high prevalence rate, just 30 percent of students report using their school’s wellness and counseling services. Some universities don’t have enough resources to meet this uptick in mental health needs, leaving students in limbo, not knowing where to turn. But rest assured: relief is available.
You don’t have to continue suffering if you feel anxious, stressed, or off-balance. Implement the actions below to care for your mental health and improve your outlook on life as a whole. These tips might sound basic, but they can help tremendously.
Reduce Social Media Consumption
If you’re a Gen Z (like most college students), then chances are, social media is an essential part of life. For digital natives, a casual scroll on TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter can feel just as routine as brushing your teeth. Social media is a fun, useful tool in moderation. It allows you to chat with friends or family. It makes news and information more accessible. It helps you raise awareness for meaningful causes.
But too much social media intake can lead to unrealistic comparisons or a false impression that everyone else’s lives are better than yours. The more this belief is reinforced by those heavily filtered pictures on your feed, the more it can affect your mental health. So maintain careful boundaries with social media. Be intentional about the content you view, and set daily screen limits to unplug and take a mental time-out from all that virtual stimulation.
Maintain a Daily Gratitude Journal
Sometimes it’s beneficial to sit with your difficult, painful emotions rather than just brushing them aside (you don’t want to fall into toxic positivity, after all). But no matter how overwhelmed you feel, it’s also important to reflect on the areas of life you’re thankful for. According to research from UC Berkeley, a consistent gratitude practice is linked to numerous mental health benefits, such as a boost in satisfaction, resilience, and a positive outlook. The study continues that gratitude can also alleviate depression, burnout, and fatigue.
One simple way to make this part of your normal routine is to keep a gratitude journal. If you can spare 5–10 minutes each morning, you have time for this daily ritual. Grab a notebook and write a list of three items you’re thankful for. These could run the gamut from the “A” you scored on that microbiology exam, to the new album you’re listening to on repeat, to late-night talks over ice cream with your roommates, or anything else. When you pause to notice the bright spots, you’ll build the stamina to cope with the challenges.
Get Your Creative Juices Flowing
You don’t have to be the next Leonardo Da Vinci to tap into your inner artist—and stabilize your mental health. According to Dr. Tammy Shella, an art therapist at the Cleveland Clinic, creativity is a natural form of self-expression that can help you make sense of complex thoughts and emotions. Art is also an entry point into the “flow state,” a zone of deep focus in which your brain is fixed on the present, not ruminating on worries and anxieties. In this flow state, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment or even euphoria, says Dr. Shella.
So bust out the canvas and acrylic paints. Write a poem or song lyrics. Stroll outside with your camera to snap a few nature photos. Enroll in a ukulele course online. Experiment with that new recipe you found on Pinterest. Learn how to crochet a scarf. No matter which artistic outlet you choose, prioritize the occasional study break to do something that will stimulate your creative juices and turn down the volume on that noisy mental chatter.
Connect Face-to-Face with Friends
While most Gen Zers are savvy at digital connections, an alarming number of teens and young adults report social isolation in real life. This is especially true on college campuses, a 2022 Student Lifestyle Survey points out, with more than 50 percent of students feeling consumed with loneliness. That isolation could also explain why over 60 percent of students are currently anxious and overwhelmed, the poll goes on to reveal.
Face-to-face conversations are a lost art, but they’re so important. When was the last time you made plans to connect in person with friends rather than just commenting on their latest social media posts? It’s easy to feel alone when your sole form of communication is through a mobile device. So prioritize offline interactions—your mental health will suffer if you don’t. Ask a friend to meet you for coffee after class. Organize a study group with some classmates at the library. Invite other students on your floor to come over for a movie night.
Make Time for Consistent Exercise
Between your academics, extra-curricular activities, and other commitments, you might feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day for a workout. Still, exercise is a vital part of both physical and mental well-being. Even if a quick 30 minutes at the university fitness center is all you can manage, slot it into your normal routine. Making time for movement will work wonders for your alertness, concentration, energy, and overall mood state. That’s because exercise releases endorphins, which decrease stress levels and lift your spirits.
According to the U.S. Department of Health, healthy adults over 18 should aim for at least 150 minutes (two hours and 30 minutes) of moderate exercise or 75 minutes (one hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous exercise per week. So if you commit to a half-hour sweat session five days a week, you’ve met the requirement. Sounds completely doable, right? You can even turn it into a social hang and invite your friends to join in.
Mental Health Matters—Invest in Yours.
As small as these actions seem, they can positively impact your mental health, emotional stability, and personal well-being. You don’t have to feel ashamed about stress, anxiety, overwhelm, or depression, but you don’t have to continue suffering. So if the pressures of college (or, you know…life) are wearing you down, be proactive to care for your mental state before it spirals out of control.